Monday, 4 February 2013


Wow. Just wow. I fell into bed last night, a happy worn out lass. My initiation into working with Kelp Gulls, Larus dominicanus, was a success! I left the house, all fresh and smelling like sunblock, and returned covered in poo and vomit and smelling like fish. And I was in a much lighter mood than when we left!

Thursday morning saw the entire family tying netting to 2 of the 3 freshly painted gull traps, which we were to use on the first expedition into the Kelp Gull breeding colony at Keurbooms Lagoon. Traps were completed 30 minutes before we left and after a hurried toast lunch we dashed out of the house and went down to the boat launch site. Eben, a wonderful man who has been working for Cape Nature for the past 20 years and helped Phil Whittington with gull ringing, took us over on the Cape Nature boat (7 adults, 2 traps and various rucksacks and bags). A 5 minute scenic boat ride later we beached on the strip of land hosting the colony and offloaded. I kicked into hyperdrive. I was more excited than a kid at Christmas! Wow. Just wow.

Birds were everywhere, the sky was full of them, they were all over the landscape, and I just couldn’t take it all in. I whipped out the camera, straight into tourist mode, and then Mark called me over. Eben had caught a chick that needed a ring. Very quickly I ringed the chick (a metal SAfring ‘K’ ring on the left leg) and then I got to hold it. First lesson when working with gulls, they bite. Hard. Over the past few weeks I have been helping Shane, an MSc student from UKZN, ring Crowned Eagles, Stephanoaetus coronatus, (his blog is definitely worth checking out!). Crowned eagles, unlike gulls, very rarely bite, and its the feet that need to be carefully controlled and watched out for. I started off with a raptor mindset. Watch the feet! I have since had a paradigm shift, watch the bill!

Over the next 3 or so hours we moved through the colony and in total ringed 3 adult Kelp Gulls and 27 flightless juveniles, as well as 3 African Oystercatchers, Haematopus moquini, of which 1 already had a ring on. The juveniles were either snuck up upon and grabbed or quickly chased down and grabbed. Adults were caught on the nest using the recently completed traps, as were the Oystercatchers. I was so privileged to have my family join me for my first ringing outing, and it made me so happy to see my boetie get in there too! Mom was the ever present photographer, Nic helped with catching, and Dad and I ringed and caught. Both Dad and I have 2 new species to add to our ringing lists, Kelp Gull and African Oystercatcher.

Throughout the few hours I was poo-ed on, vomited on and bitten, but what an experience! We celebrated a successful afternoons ringing with pizza on the beach and retired home weary but elated! I am so very excited for the next two years! I know that it is going to be hard work, with trials and tribulations but the rewards are going to overpower all else! Here’s to an eventful MSc!

Dad surveying the scene. Photo by Suzette Witteveen.
Lesson 1: Gulls bite, keep your face out of the way! Photo by Suzette Witteveen.
Looking at the moult with Dad and Mark. Photo by Suzette Witteveen.

First adult to be ringed, wearing ring K001. Photo by Suzette Witteveen.
Nic and I with smiles all round. Photo by Suzette Witteveen.

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